Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has played down the significance of Lionel Messi’s failure to score in previous matches with Chelsea ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League clash between the teams.
Barca’s No10 has scored 97 goals in the competition yet has drawn a blank in eight appearances against the Blues, even missing a penalty in the shock semi-final defeat of 2012.
“This tie is important for Leo, for me, for Barcelona,” said Valverde. “It will be tough, but it’s important because we want to qualify. Leo perhaps hasn’t had much luck against Chelsea before, but tomorrow is a different game.”
The Spanish league leaders have lost just once in 38 games, in contrast to Chelsea’s stuttering form, yet Valverde preached caution, pointing to the positive displays of Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham in their last 16 ties last week.
“The Premier League teams are in good shape in Europe again after a few years. The English teams have a powerful league; it’s normal they are there at the top,” he added.
“We need to bear in mind that we are facing the reigning champions of England. They have really decisive players forward: Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata, Olivier Giroud, Pedro. It will be difficult throughout.”
Former Liverpool attacking midfielder Philippe Coutinho, a £142m January signing, is cup tied but ex-Tottenham flop Paulinho, who has shone in Spain following a stint in China, is available.
Valverde remained coy on whether he would pick Paulinho or Portugal international Andre Gomes, or whether £135m summer arrival Ousmane Dembele would feature from the start.
“Everyone is prepared to play,” he said. “People ask but we just have to wait and see.”